Suffer Title Defeat
Publisher, Sussex County Online
Photos (from top): Seaford's Ashlee Burbage drives to the hoop. The Blue Jays' Angie Owens tries to get a shot over Polytech forward Nikki Hayes.
NEWARK -- The Seaford High School girls' basketball team said all along it could live without a Henlopen Conference Northern Division title. It said it could live without defending its Henlopen Conference championship for a third straight season.
Ever since the Blue Jays' loss to A.I. DuPont in the 2002 state tournament semifinals, though, the Blue Jays said it would be much harder to live without a state championship this year.
That empty feeling was evident after the top-seeded Blue Jays' 57-46 loss to third-seeded Polytech in the 2003 Delaware girls' state championship game on Saturday, March 8, at the University of Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center.
With tears flowing down their faces as they accepted the second-place trophy and medals, it was left to head coach Jim Wearden to put into perspective what this Blue Jay squad had accomplished, rather than what it hadn't.
"I'm proud of them, to get here," said Wearden. "Every year we've tried to take a step further, and hopefully the girls that come back next year are going to work to take it one step further. This is the hardest thing in the world to do, to win the state championship. Polytech got it this year and hopefully we can come back and keep trying and working and getting better."
Despite the loss, the Blue Jays left the Carpenter Center with a 22-3 record, and more importantly, the first state championship berth in the proud program's history. What's more, the Blue Jays became only the third Sussex County team to reach the finals in the tournament's 30-year history, and the first Sussex club to get to the finals since Sussex Central in 1995.
Unfortunately on Saturday night, the Blue Jays' shooting woes from their semifinal win over Sussex Tech continued against a Polytech team well-prepared to take advantage.
With Seaford shooting just 16.7 percent in the first half, the taller Panthers crashed the offensive glass for 6 second-chance points and recovered from a miserable first period shooting performance of their own to take a 23-16 halftime lead.
The Panthers would dominate underneath, with forwards Tyresa Smith and Nikki Hayes and center Kim Rowley all recording double-doubles. Smith totalled 17 points and 10 rebounds, Hayes 10 points and 16 rebounds, and Rowley 10 points and 12 rebounds. For the game, Polytech led Seaford 53-41 in rebounds.
Even though the Blue Jays would make a couple of runs in the second half, those trends continued in the third and fourth quarters, with the Panthers scoring 9 more points off offensive rebounds and hitting 41.7 percent of their field goal attempts.
In addition, the Panthers took 26 foul shots in the second half, hitting on 13.
While hardly spectacular, those numbers were just enough to subdue a Seaford squad that was misfiring all over the place.
Time after time, guards Ashlee Burbage and Shirelle Tingle and forward Roniece Williams would blow past Polytech defenders only to miss an open layup, be bothered by one of the Panthers' taller front-line players, or dish off to a teammate who would mis-fire.
Burbage (19 points) and Williams (14 points) would combine for 33 points, but they would also shoot 13-for-41.
The frustration of all those missed layups carried over to the foul line and the three-point line, as the Jays hit only 2 of their 17 three-point attempts and only 4 of their 10 second-half free throw tries. Three-point specialist Tonya Purnell went 0-for-8, including 0-for-7 from three-point range.
"It was our inability to make our baskets, from the foul line, on the layups," said Wearden. "The girls went out and hustled. They didn't quit the whole game. They laid it all on the line. That's been us lately, though. I don't know why we can't finish. But, it happens, it happens."
Despite their offensive woes, the Blue Jays made a game of it at times thanks to their reliable pressure defense. Pestering the Panthers' into 22 turnovers, including 15 in the second half, Seaford made a valiant run early in the fourth quarter to get back into the game.
After trailing by as many as 12 points in the third period, the Blue Jays began to show some signs of life in the final two minutes of the third quarter, as they cut a 34-22 deficit to 37-29 on a layup, a foul shot and a jumper by Burbage, and a layup by Ebony Keaton (10 points) off an assist from Burbage.
Feeding off that momentum, the Blue Jays cut the gap to 37-33 with 7:04 remaining on a layup by Williams and two foul shots by Keaton before Polytech managed a single free throw by Tyresa Smith, who led the Panthers with 17 points despite sitting down much of the third quarter with foul problems.
Following Smith's free throw, Burbage converted a steal into a layup that brought the Jays to within a three-pointer of a tie, at 38-35, with 6:24 to go.
Burbage would hit a three-pointer with 5:34 left to make it 42-38 Polytech, but that would be as close as Seaford would come, as Polytech would hit 6 of its next 8 free throws and Seaford would miss five free throws, two jump shots, six three-pointers and two layups, and commit five turnovers the rest of the way.
"It seemed like every time we got a little run going, they answered," said Wearden. "They hit their foul shots, and that killed us."
In the first half, the Blue Jays failed to take advantage of Polytech's cold first quarter. The Panthers shot just 9.1 percent in the first quarter, but Seaford shot only 18.2 percent and led only 7-6 going into the second quarter.
In the second quarter, Polytech picked up its shooting, but the Blue Jays' shooting funk continued. Seaford shot just 16.7 percent on 30 field goal attempts in the first half, and the result was a 21-10 Panther lead late in the second period before a jumper by Williams and a buzzer-beating jumper by Keaton brought the Jays within 23-16 at halftime.
POLYTECH (28) -- Tyresa Smith 5-17, 6-12, 17; Nikki Hayes 5-10, 0-1, 10; Kim Rowley 4-8, 2-2, 10; Dena Dempster 2-10, 5-10, 9; Paula Green 0-0, 0-0, 0; Erica Freeman 0-0, 0-0, 0; Jackie Graves 0-0, 0-0, 0; Keisha Robinson 0-0, 0-0, 0; Andrea Harper 3-8, 3-5, 11. TOTALS 19-53, 16-30, 57.
SEAFORD (45) -- Chaunta Kilgoe 0-2, 0-0, 0; Ebony Keaton 3-7, 4-9, 10; Roniece Williams 7-25, 0-3, 14; Ashlee Burbage 6-16, 6-7, 19; Shirelle Tingle 1-4, 0-0, 3; Tonya Purnell 0-8, 0-0, 0; Angela Owens 0-1, 0-0, 0. TOTALS 17-63, 10-19, 46.
Three-pointers: Seaford 2 (Burbage, Tingle); Polytech 3 (Harper 2, Smith).
Rebounds: Seaford 41 (Kilgoe 1, Keaton 12, Williams 7, Burbage 8, Tingle 2, Purnell 5); Polytech 53 (Smith 10, Hayes 16, Rowley 12, Dempster 4, Green 2, Robinson 1, Harper 4).
Assists: Seaford 5 (Kilgoe 2, Keaton 1, Williams 1, Burbage 1); Polytech 10 (Smith 2, Rowley 1, Dempster 4, Harper 3).
Blocks: Seaford 1 (Tingle); Polytech 3 (Smith 1, Hayes 2).
Steals: Seaford 12 (Kilgoe 1, Keaton 4, Williams 2, Burbage 2, Tingle 2, Purnell 1); Polytech 10 (Smith 4, Hayes 2, Rowley 2, Dempster 2).
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